Lawyers sometimes say that you should never ask a witness a question during trial to which you don’t the answer to. The same principles usually operates in Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons where the question and answer session is really one of “statement” followed by “statement” (even though the statements are dressed up as questions and answers).
Can a politician cue their own ‘revealing ah’? Theresa May appeared to do this at Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday in the House.
Jeremy Corbyn was met with a ‘down-down-down’ chorus from his own backbenchers at Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday. They were not calling for him to step down however! On the contrary, they were showing their support for their leader as he went up against Prime Minister Theresa May.
David Cameron will take part in his last PMQs as Prime Minister on Wednesday. Cameron has been at the dispatch box answering questions most Wednesday afternoons since he became PM in 2010, although he spent several years asking questions as Leader of the Opposition before that. Continue reading “Five telling moments from David Cameron at PMQs”
Slips of the tongue can be embarrassing for anyone speaking in public, but when the slip occurs twice in quick succession, one has to ask whether the speaker subconsciously really wanted to say something different. David Cameron (DC) was outlining during PMQs the tough steps the government had taken against ‘unscrupulous employers’ under his premiership when he mistook the word ‘employees’ for ‘employers’ – a reasonable mistake to make you might think. Continue reading “Slip squared!”
The Speaker of the House of Commons (John Bercow) delivers some interesting articulations of “order order!” – the phrase which is most commonly used to bring members to order. Here are five examples all with different stress, intonation, length and loudness. The first one (01) is the normal rendition. Continue reading “⇘ORder (.) ⇘ORder”
Jeremy Corbyn (JC) had to brave howls of laughter when he accused the Prime Minister of a ‘long answer’ at PMQs on Wednesday. Corbyn had previously provided a quite long question himself which the house had barely tolerated. When he accused the Prime Minister (PM) of being long-winded the Conservative benches immediately sensed the irony and burst into a chorus of laughter, putting Corbyn off his stride. Continue reading “PMQs Watch: Howls of laughter”
Most people would do their upmost to get a sitting in the House of Commons but on occasion some MPs are only too glad to relinquish it. Dennis Skinner, the MP for Bolsover, was happy to do so on Monday as he accuses David Cameron of being ‘dodgy’ over his financial dealings. Continue reading “How to get thrown out of the House of Commons”
The tone of the chamber in PMQs can change quite dramatically from an affiliative (cooperative) tone to an adversarial (competitive) tone depending on the topic. Affiliative discourse is not as common as adversarial discourse in the House, but an occasion such as a terrorist attack often calls for leaders to make statement to which the chamber are usually respectful. When the topic changes to more local, inter-party issues then members can change tone at the drop of a hat. Continue reading “Affiliative and Adversarial Discourse”
In the House of Commons, the force of an utterance often receives its legitimacy from the reaction of the audience: the members of the chamber. In PMQs on Wednesday, David Cameron (PM), in reaction to an unauthorised question from a member, told Jeremy Corbyn to ‘put on a proper suit, do up your tie, and sing the national anthem’ – a reference to the Leader of the Opposition’s noted informal wear and unwillingness to sing the national anthem. Continue reading “PMQs Watch: 35 seconds”
Some more clips from PMQs for 210DEL students and coursework. Continue reading “PMQs Watch – “Diagnostic Radiophrakers””
Corbyn negotiates with the chamber to establish the floor
Sometimes establishing your right to the floor after being selected by the Speaker can be difficult. Here Jeremy Corbyn (JC) has to negotiate with the chamber: Continue reading “PMQs Watch – the role of the audience”
Corbyn negotiates with the chamber
Jeremy Corbyn (JC) had to negotiate with the chamber again yesterday during Prime Minister’s Questions. When he rose to speak there was a great deal of barracking and he sarcastically remarked that is was nice to get such a warm welcome: Continue reading “PMQs Watch – Chuntering from a sedentary position”
You might think that passing on season’s greetings at Christmas time in the House of Commons would be a fairly enjoyable and risk-free thing to do. But David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn got themselves into twist as they came head to head in the last PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions) before the Christmas break. Continue reading “The pain of giving Season’s Greetings in the House of Commons”
Hilary Benn received a rousing reception after completing his speech during the debate in the House of Commons on whether to bomb ISIS in Syria. The house even broke into applause, generally frowned upon by the Speaker, which lasted for over 40 seconds. Most of the applause was from the Conservative benches who had proposed the motion to which Benn was supporting but a good deal of applause also came from his own benches. Continue reading “Applause for Benn”
John McDonnell took some flak when he produced Chairman Mao’s little red book from his pocket in the House of Commons on Wednesday, probably a first in the history of Parliament that the book has made an appearance. However it is not first time that Chairman Mao has been quoted. The table below shows the frequency of mentions of the phrase ‘Chairman Mao’ since the 1950s. Continue reading “John McDonnell and The Little Red Book”
Most commentators noted that the tone at Wednesday’s PMQs had shifted significantly from the reserved and hushed tones of previous meetings to a more rowdy and challenging tone yesterday. This illustrates what I call the ‘audience as participant’ effect whereby the audience (the chamber of MPs in this case) claims certain rights to the floor despite the fact that the conversation at PMQs is globally managed by the Speaker and turns are allocated by him. These rights include the right to cheer, jeer, laugh at and generally interrupt proceedings to voice their feelings, attitudes and concerns. Whilst the audience can never be called on to take a turn, they are able to influence the discourse as if they were a participant and the current speaker has to negotiate with this to establish the floor in the way he or she sees fit. Continue reading “PMQs Watch – Audience as Participant”
Corbyn negotiates with the Chamber
The example below is a good example of how the current speaker at the dispatch box, Jeremy Corbyn in this case, often has to negotiate with the chamber to establish their rights to the floor. Corbyn has become well known for introducing questions from members of the public at PMQs. In the transcript below, it is interesting to note that the ‘groans’ from the Conservative benches actually start when Corbyn says ‘sent’, interrupting Corbyn and indicating that the Conservative benches were perhaps waiting for the first question of this type. Continue reading “PMQs Watch”
PMQs returned to our screens on Wednesday after a brief rest bite for the party conferences. David Cameron went up against Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour party, for the second time since Corbyn was elected. Corbyn again selected some questions from the public, a technique that has been dubbed ‘Corbyn’s crowdsourcing’, but followed these up with more specific points to try and pin Cameron down on certain issues.
One feature of Corbyn’s delivery that seems to have emerged is the ‘Corbyn stare’, a rather dismissive eye gaze at a certain section of unruly MPs in the chamber, usually accompanied by a prolonged pause in his delivery. As I have suggested before, long pauses in a speaker’s delivery are rare in the chamber because of the potential loss of face and a possible interruption by the Speaker of the House. MPs prefer to use repetition and false starts to hold the floor while dealing with unruly sections of the chamber. Continue reading “PMQs Watch – The Corbyn Stare”
PMQs saw a new leader of the opposition (LO) on Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn, who won a rather surprising victory in the Labour party leadership election. Corbyn’s first appearance and performance at PMQs was scrutinised very carefully by the media demonstrating the importance of this weekly event in the House of Commons.
When Corbyn stood up for the first time there was a resounding cheer from the Labour benches for their new leader. The Conservative benches were surprisingly quiet. In the past they would often cheer the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, as he stood up in a mocking tone to suggest that he does not get enough support from his own benches. They clearly took a principled decision not to do that for Corbyn’s first PMQs but it remains to be seen whether they will continue like this in the future.
Hesitations are a natural part of unscripted spoken language. We all hesitate from time to time while speaking for various reasons: to plan what we want to say next, to correct errors or for dramatic effect. Hesitation is normally apparent in the speech output through repetitions, false starts and pauses (either filled or unfilled).
In a previous post I have argued that the house is a multi-faceted chamber with comments and background noise from members of the chamber combining with the current speaker to create a multi-modal discourse act. This is particularly important during Prime Minister’s questions (PMQs) when the performance of those taking part, particularly the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, can be just as significant as what they say. Support from members of the chamber at this time can often indicate how well the current speaker is perceived to be doing.
The definition of a tone unit is a “a stretch of speech uttered under a single … intonational contour” (Du Bois 1992). The key to this definition is a ‘single intonational contour’. Thus the decision as to where to split a string of words based on tone units depends primarily on the change in tone. Pausing and lengthening of syllables can also be used as cues for the termination of the unit although these are secondary.
Continue reading “Pausing and Tone Units”
PMQs was a relatively quiet affair on Wednesday apart for the outburst from “Jurassic Park” (aka Dennis Skinner). Harriet Harman asked a few questions on the issue of radicalisation and the aftermath of the Tunisian attacks before moving on to the issue of airport capacity. Continue reading “PMQs watch”
We presented the following presentation at the BESRES conference at Coventry University yesterday. The talk was well received and generated some useful discussion. Thank you to all who attended our talk and to the conference organisers for putting on the event.
Conference slides are here: BES Conference 2015 – slides
Interruptions at PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions) are recorded in Hansard in a limited way, usually through the insertion of the word ‘[Interruption.]’ and are often followed by the Speaker’s call to order. The house however is collective body and background noise from the chamber during PMQs is important in signalling the general mood and degree of agreement or disagreement with the current speaker.